1 Introduction 1 Research Problem



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Introduction

1.1.1. Research Problem

This research proposes to discuss representation of history in the novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth, more specifically in Midnight’s Children (1981), Shame (1983), The Great Indian Novel (1989), Riot: A Novel (2001) and A Suitable Boy (1993). In the last two decades of twentieth century history has been problematized in the fiction of Indian English novelists in postcolonial perspective. Postcolonial writings attempt to resist colonialism and its inherent ideology through various strategies. Postcolonial studies draw attention to the fact that during the colonial period much of the history of the colonized nations was produced by Europeans as they think that natives are incapable of writing their own history. In imperial history writing negative pictures of the colonized nations were presented. These negative representations helped the Europeans to justify their rule as a civilizing mission. In recent times postcolonial writers are seen to be more preoccupied with history as they use it as a tool of decolonization. Through overt and subtle use of history they are subverting existing power relationships and construction of history and culture. In the field of fiction writings too, Indian English novelists namely Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Allan Sealy, Rukun Advani, Upmanyu Chatterjee, Vikram Chandra, Rohinton Mistry, Farrukh Dhondy and Mukul Kesavan while representing history in their fiction intend to make rupture in the colonial perception of history which is based on hegemony and imperialistic bias. In this thesis, we have discussed how history has been problematized in the novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth in postcolonial perspective. These writers have used historical materials in their novels in their own way to question Europe’s dominant status as master of all history writings.

Postmodern questioning of traditional European notion of representing history in fiction which gained momentum in 1980s begins with Salman Rushdie in Indian English novel. Using different postcolonial literary devices Rushdie has captured the history of Indian subcontinent in his novels. Shashi Tharoor, former UN diplomat and a member of Indian parliament has also narrated history of twentieth century India in fictional terms. Tharoor’s writing poses a postcolonial challenge to western notion of history, fiction and historiography. Versatile genius Vikram Seth’s work presents microscopic details of a particular time span of history of India. Dealing with the same theme Seth’s approach is very different from the above two writers. His magnum opus A Suitable Boy offers social history of the Indian nation. All these writers have used historical materials in their novels but approach of these writers is very different from each other. The present study has tried to interpret and analyze the various ways used by these writers to counter the given version of history and replacement of the above by their own version of the events. An analysis and interpretation of the novels of these writers will enable us to have a deeper understanding of representation of history in relation to socio-political, economic and cultural concerns of the subcontinent. Therein lies the relevance of studying the works of these writers.

1.1.2. Hypothesis


  1. Representation of history in the novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth counter the earlier representations and provide their versions of the events.

  2. Intermingling of fact and fiction in their novels brings forth socio-political and cultural realities of the period discussed therein.

  3. Various ways adopted by these writers provide a broad and comprehensive understanding of the period in history in relation to socio-political, economic and cultural concerns of the subcontinent.

1.1.3. Objectives of Study

This present research has attempted to discuss how representation of history is used as a strategy to dismantle the presentation taken for granted by these writers. This study is a quest for truth, free from the hegemonic angularities, foregrounded in the viewpoints of the marginalized and ignored sections of the society. The five selected novels taken for discussion namely Midnight’s Children, Shame, The Great Indian Novel, Riot: A Novel and A Suitable Boy provide an accounts of life and suffering of suppressed individuals, struggling to register their voices in the mainstream of the society. These writers have represented history of the nation from the eyes of the common people who are product of it rather than those in power. The objective of the present study is to provide an account of the lives of marginalized section of the society described in these novels. Dismantling western notion of history as well as the official records of Indian history, they emphasize the fact that past can be represented in a variety of ways as there is no fixed truth. It is specifically true in the case of Indian subcontinent where heterogeneity and plurality prevail. The present research has tried to outline the various ways through which these writers have represented history in their novels. It has attempted to explore the myriad ways through which these writers contested the official version of history. Engagement with History involves interpretations of lives and relationship of nations and peoples. Discussing history of the nation, these writers also gives insight into socio-political, cultural and economic issues of the subcontinent. The study will try to analysis the fiction of these writers to explore the socio political and cultural realities discussed therein. The various approaches adopted by these writers have provided different dimensions to understand the history of Indian Subcontinent thematized in these selected novels. The thesis has also attempted to provide a comparative assessment of these three writers in respect of their representation of history in their novels.



1.1.4. Methodology

The research draws on the insights and precision of some of the postcolonial critics for analysis and interpretation of the selected novels. The focus is on library study and the data have been collected for the selected novels basing on the parameters chosen for discussion. It is focused to textual analysis. The textual analysis method is quite helpful to discuss the overt and subtle use of historical materials, carried out by these writers to provide an alternative version of past in their novels. Representation of history in recent Indian English fiction may be viewed as multifaceted representation of inner history of human lives that provide an entry into the aesthetics and spiritual perceptions particularly in the world of cultural identities rather than nationalistic identity. Representation of History therefore implies both an interdisciplinary and multicultural strategy to decolonize in terms of delearning and relearning. In studying the novels of these writers, the thesis will also be applying insights and precision of other approaches such as poststructuralism and postmodernism wherever necessary because that will enrich our research. References to non-fictional works of these writers such as Imaginary Homelands (1991), Step Across This line (2002) Bookless in Baghdad (2005) and An Era of Darkness (2016) will be given to interpret the selected novels. Input from interviews of these writers will also be incorporated for thematic analysis. Critical views of the critics/theorists on these writers will be incorporated wherever they proved to be relevant in analyzing the content of the novels. These writers have incorporated history into fiction in as varied ways as they are. So a comparative perspective of these writers will enable us to understand socio-political and cultural realities of the period discussed in their novels in deeper and better way. The selected novels of these writers will be analyzed in a comparative framework. So the analysis of the novels of these writers will result in exploring new areas of meaning in the contemporary perspective.



1.1.5. Review of Development in the Field

Postcolonial reading is a method of interpretation of literary texts that contests dominant western ways of seeing things in which the voice of colonial other is not only marginalized but the very existence of the ‘other’ as a cultural legacy has been wiped out. It aims to interpret world from the point of view of the marginalized. Young writes: “Since the early 1980s, postcolonialism has developed a body of writing that attempts to shift the dominant ways in which the relations between western and non-western people and their worlds are viewed” (Empire 2). The term ‘postcolonialism’ is used by Ashcroft “to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day” (2). The term ‘postcolonialism’ has been used in two ways. Hyphenated term ‘postcolonialism’ denotes to particular historical period after the fall of empire. Unhyphenated term designates various forms of representation that protest and question against colonial authority. Leela Gandhi also expresses her view that “the unbroken term ‘postcolonialism’ is more sensitive to the long history of colonial consequences” (3). Discussing the term Meenakshi Mukherjee writes:

Post-colonialism is not merely a chronological label referring to the period after the demise of empires. It is ideologically an emancipatory concept particularly for the students of literature outside the Western world, because it makes us interrogate many concepts of the study of literature that we were made to take for granted, enabling us not only to read our own texts in our own terms, but also to re-interpret some of the old canonical texts from Europe from the perspective of our specific historical and geographical location. (Interrogating 3-4)

Unbroken term is preferred by most of the theorists as it is more sensitive to the historical experiences of the third world. The third world denotes the new independent nations that were former colony of imperial powers. In many ways, the Bandung Conference of third world countries in 1955 can be called the beginning of postcolonialism. Eleven years later Tricontinental conference held in Havana in 1966 brought together the three continents namely Asia, Africa and Latin America. These continents gathered to resist the continuous imperialism of the west. The writings of ‘postcolonial ‘theorists and activists such as Amilcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Jean Paul Sartre were first time brought together in the journal titled Tricontinental of this conference. These theorists suggested an alternative “epistemology” or system of knowledge from the third world, different from European one. “Postcolonialism, or tricontinentalism” for Robert Young “is a general name for these insurgent knowledges that comes from the subaltern, the dispossessed and seek to change the terms and values under which we all live” (20).

The inspiration for anti-colonial struggles against domination and oppression across the world can be traced back to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth published in French in 1961. The Martinique psychiatrist Frantz Fanon in this book describes psychological aspect of colonialism and argues to use violence in struggle against colonialism. By this he means that through the process of violently seizing freedom and acquiring political power, the native will be able to retrieve the self-respect that was damaged under colonial oppression. Edward Said’s work Orientalism (1978) marks the beginning of postcolonial studies. Said explains Orientalism “as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (From Orientalism 21).Said argues that European nations produce a discourse called Orientalism that creates knowledge about non European countries and people through personal observations. Through these representations, a hierarchy is created between Europe and the Orient in which east is represented as inferior to west. These biased projections have an evil intention of legitimizing empirical ideology. This ground breaking work of Said paved the way to various sorts of textual analysis looking for ways of subverting colonial ideology. Leela Gandhi expresses her view that postcolonialism “is a disciplinary project devoted to the academic task of revisiting, remembering, and crucially interrogating the colonial past” (4). Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has taken deconstruction as a strategy for negotiating the postcolonial condition. She notes that “the political claims that are most urgent in decolonized space are tacitly recognized as coded within the legacy of imperialism: nationhood, constitutionality, citizenship, democracy, even culturalism” (204). Spivak’s most significant contribution to this discipline is her postcolonial exposition of the status of women through the concept of ‘gendered subaltern’. An Indian immigrant and postcolonial critic, Homi K. Bhabha’s view about postcolonialism can be traced in his books Nation and Narration (1990) and The Location of Culture (1994). Bhabha has made immense contribution to postcolonial studies by popularizing the concept such as ‘Mimicry’, ‘Hybridity’, ‘Ambivalence’ and ‘Other’. Aijaz Ahmad has discussed at length the use and scope of the terms ‘postcoloniality’, ‘postcolonial’, and ‘postcolonialism’ by the literary and cultural theorists during the 1980s. Stuart Hall has expressed his view about ‘identity’ a very important term in the field of postcolonial studies.

So postcolonial literary theories and cultural analysis are concerned with looking the world from the below, from the viewpoint of the marginalized. In the perspective of such theoretical and methodological development on postcolonialism, the present thesis will focus on analysis and interpretation of history-fiction interface reflected in the novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth. However Indian writers’ engagement with history has been the subject of many research projects and a number of beneficial researches have been done on this area with specific approaches but this thesis will try to critically analyze the novels of these writers focusing on the historical, socio-political, and cultural realities expressed therein. This thesis will limit itself to only five selected novels of these writers. It will focus on Midnight’s Children (1981) and Shame (1983) by Salman Rushdie, The Great Indian Novel (1989) and Riot: A Novel (2001) by Shashi Tharoor and A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.



1.1.6. The Plan and Chapterization

The present research work has been divided into six chapters. These are:



Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Representation of History in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction

Chapter 3: Representation of History in Shashi Tharoor’s Fiction

Chapter 4: Representation of History in Vikram Seth’s Fiction

Chapter 5: A Comparative Assessment

Chapter 6: Conclusion

The first chapter introduces research problem, Hypothesis, plan and chapterization of the thesis. Objectives of the thesis, methodology adopted and review of the development in the field have also been mentioned in the introductory chapter. The chapter further discusses theoretical grounding of the thesis. The chapter discusses the notion of history and fiction, traditional western concept of history, the concept of western and Indian historiography, and postcolonial perspective of history as discussed by various critics. Tracing views of various historians and critics the chapter discusses rejection of the traditional concept of history which distinguishes between fact and fiction, and claim of presenting reality as it actually happened. It will also attempt to examine representation of history in Indian English writing. An attempt will be made to discuss how engagement with history in recent Indian English fiction has provided a scope for looking at the previous texts with fresh perspective. The Introductory chapter will also situate the three novelists Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth, in the tradition of Indian literature in English.

The second chapter titled “Representation of History in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction” analyzes representation of history in the novels of Rushdie as a strategy to dismantle the representation taken for granted. For this purpose I have chosen two novels namely Midnight’s Children and Shame. Midnight’s Children winner of many reputed prizes deals with history and politics of Indian subcontinent covering the time span of pre independence to post emergency period. Shame explores the life of two families of Pakistan in which family history parallel the contemporary history of Pakistan. In this chapter an attempt will be made to discuss Rushdie’s negation of western concept of history and historiography through his fictions. The first section of the chapter provides biographical details and analyzes Rushdie’s method of representing past in his novels. The second section of the chapter discusses intermixture of fact and fiction in retelling of individual experiences as a mode of representation of deeper social-political and cultural realism in these novels. The third section of the chapter endeavor to critically examine Rushdie’s use of various postmodern techniques in discarding the totalizing official version of history by analyzing the content of both the text. Finally the fourth section of the chapter will sum up the analysis by analyzing the narrative technique adopted in both the novels which subvert western concept of history and historiography. This chapter will focus to analyze both the novels thematically and technically in the light and opinion of Rushdie’s own views and of the critics.

The third chapter titled “Representation of History in Shashi Tharoor’s Fiction will discuss Tharoor’s recording of History of India in his novels. I have selected two novels of Tharoor The Great Indian Novel and Riot: A Novel which present history of modern India in fictional terms. Both his novels reject European notion of history and historiography by emphasizing multiple realities and multiple ways to present them. The chapter will examine various ways used by Tharoor in retelling and recording multiple realities of Indian history. The first section of the chapter provides biographical details and discusses thematic focus of his work which reveals his sense of pride in Indian culture, heritage and history. The second section of the chapter analyzes The Great Indian Novel which retells the political history of twentieth century India which records political history of modern India on the structure of great Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Tharoor’s use of myths in juxtaposing the past and the present emphasizes the contemporary relevance of Indian epic in postcolonial context. The third section of the chapter analyzes Riot as a rejection of singularity of truth.

Chapter four titled “Representation of History in Vikram Seth’s Fiction analyzes Vikram Seth's representation of post-independent India in his novel A Suitable Boy. Like Salman Rushdie and Shashi Tharoor, Seth has not adopted magic realism and fragmented narration but has represented his understanding of 1950s India in realistic manner of narration. Unlike Rushdie and Tharoor Seth has not attempted to define or interrogate the concept of India. In this chapter an attempt will be made to discuss Vikram Seth’s vision and version of the Indian nation in the novel A Suitable boy. The novel discusses in detail the social, political and cultural history of newly independent India of 1950s. Through everyday lives and relationships of the people, their culture, Seth connects us with the national and political issues of the day. The chapter will critically interpret and analyze the novel from socio-political, cultural and economic perspective. These perspectives will help us to understand history of the particular period in a broader way.

The chapter five titled “A Comparative Assessment” the novels of Salman Rushdie, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth will be discussed in a comparative perspective. All these writers have incorporated the history of Indian subcontinent in fictional terms but the way of presentation is different. Same event from the history has been re-presented in plurality. This chapter will try to analyze the novels by cross referring the depiction of the particular event in different novels side by side. The endeavor in this chapter will be to explore the thematic and technical aspects of each novel in a comparative framework. The chapter provides comprehensive view of socio-political and cultural reality of Indian subcontinent as discussed in the novels by these three writers.

The sixth and the concluding chapter titled “Conclusion” will sum up the discussions of the entire concept development and findings of the thesis. Relevance of the present study and Scope for further research will also be mentioned in this chapter. By studying these novels of contemporary novelists from this perspective and examining them finally in a comparative framework we will be in a position to understand socio-political and cultural issues of Indian subcontinent in deeper and better way. Further, such a study will also explore some of the important areas of meaning that have not been touched upon before. It will also reinforce our understanding of the contemporary socio-political, cultural and economic issues of Indian subcontinent.

1.2. Notion of History and Fiction

Origin of the word history can be traced back to the Greek word 'historia' which means 'a learning or knowing by inquiry: an account of one's inquiries' (OED). It is a systematic written account of the events happened in the past. Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the word History as "the discipline that studies the chronological records of events (as affecting a nation or people), based on a critical examination of source materials and usually presenting an explanation of their causes." H.E. Barnes offers two definition of history: In an objective sense history is, to use the words of Professor Robinson, "all we know about everything man has ever done, or thought, or hoped, or felt." Subjectively or psychologically expressed, history may be regarded as a record of all that has occurred within the realm of human consciousness" (205).On the other hand, the term fiction is derived from Latin 'fictionem' which refers to something invented by the imagination (OED). Fiction is any literary narrative “which is invented instead of being an account of events that actually happened" (Abrams 99). It is imaginary story about imaginary character and events. History is an authentic description of the events happened in the past and fiction is the imaginary narrative of the events which have not occurred in actual life. It has been regarded that history deals with facts while fiction deals with imagination. History narrates the actual events of the past objectively while fiction surpasses the boundary of reality. In this context history and fiction are seen contrary to each other.

History like fiction had its origin in myth. Early historical narratives contain description of kings, war and important happenings of the time which were passed from generation to generation in oral form. Arnold Toynbee informs: “History, like the drama and the novel grew out of mythology, a primitive form of apprehension and expression in which as in fairy tales listened to by children or in dreams dreamt by sophisticated adults the line between fact and fiction is left undrawn” (Toynbee 44).

The first true historical narrative was produced by Hebrews of ancient Palestine. More authentic kinds of historical accounts are recorded by people of Sumer and Egypt. The first systematic account of history is the description of Greco-Persian War in Historica by Herodotus. Herodotus’s work is treated as first objective account of history. "Then onward history was divorced from folk tales and myth as the latter were considered to be opposite to ‘truth’ and ‘fact’" (Shah 10). Distinguishing between history and poetry Aristotle in Poetics writes: “…it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen-what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose… the true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen” (Butcher 35).

Poetry refers to all kinds of creative literature that time. Aristotle regards poetry more serious and philosophical than history as it deals with universal while history deals with particulars. Historian's area is limited as he is bound to speak about the events that have occurred. But the poet is free to speak about the things that may occur. Aristotle's distinction between history and poetry formed the basis of European criticism from Aristotle to the nineteenth century. Aristotle’s distinction was reformulated as a distinction between history and fiction in the nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century "traditional history defined itself in opposition to literature as an empirical search for external truths corresponding to what was considered to be absolute reality of the past events" (Onega 12). History was treated as science. This scientific aspect of history resulted in separation between history and literature as two distinct disciplines. This view is challenged by postmodern theory of discourses. These theories reject the distinction between history and fiction and concentrate "more on what the two modes of writing share than on how they differ" (Hutcheon 105).



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